Only two games were decided by more than three goals in the first round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament.
That made us wonder: which of the eight teams remaining are the best in those tight games? Who's the most clutch?
Spoiler: It's Johns Hopkins. We arrived at this answer with help from Lacrosse Reference, which has developed a “tension score”: a stat used to indicate exactly how close (and therefore exciting) any given game is, by looking at the how the scoring margin changes through all four quarters.
The tensest game this season was one between Penn and Bucknell, where the score was tied or within one goal for all but 1:21 of play, and Penn scored the game-winner with two seconds left.
That game earned a tension score of 24. Of the 527 games measured, the average score was 96.63.
For the purpose of this story, we’ll use this number to roughly determine what is a close game, and what is not. Any game with a score below average will be deemed “close.”
So, how do the final eight lacrosse teams stack up?
|TEAM||Average game score||Average win score||Average loss score||Close games||Non-close games||Close game record||Non-close game record||Close game Win %||Non-close game Win %|
No one has played more tight games than Maryland. Of their 16 games this year, 11 have been closer than average. In those games, the Terps are an impressive 8-3.
But Johns Hopkins might be the best team in the clutch. Its most recent tight game came in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Georgetown. The Blue Jays scored the equalizer with four minutes left in regulation, then won on a goal with 29 seconds left in overtime.
That pushed Johns Hopkins’ close-game record to 7-2, good for a 77.8% winning percentage — the best among all remaining teams who played more than three tight games. That last stipulation has to be added thanks to Albany, which is 3-0 on the year in close games.
But the Great Danes happen to have the highest average tension score of the eight teams left, meaning they’ve played the least close games of any team.
When Albany wins, they win big. In their 15 wins, the scoring margin is 15.7. But they lose big too. Their two losses are by a combined 12 goals.
Only two games all season were within two goals, and that wasn’t changing come tournament time. Albany handled Richmond 18-9 in the first round to set up a meeting with Denver.
Of all the teams still in the tournament, Duke is the weakest in close games. The Blue Devils are 4-3 in such games, which is tied with Cornell as the worst close-game winning percentage. But unlike Cornell, Duke hasn’t lost a game above the average tension score. That in and of itself is a reassuring stat (if Duke is going to lose, it’s going to be a tight game), but three losses in their six closest games points to either rough luck or an inability to come up clutch.
The Blue Devils have a chance to erase that stigma Sunday. They're facing off against Johns Hopkins in the second round. One thing's pretty much a guarantee: It'll be a close one.